Divorce and remarriage
When it comes to marriage, divorce and remarriage, pastoral problems are increasingly complex. Today I'm running a study day chez nous for some of our students on these particular issues. We're splitting the day into two parts. In part one, we're going to try to put together the various Bible passages and come up with some principles. I don't expect we'll all agree on these. But we need to hold them with conviction and good conscience – not other people's views, but our own carefully thought through scriptural positions.
Then in part two, I've got nine real life (names changed) pastoral situations – the very kinds of situations which these principles need to be applied to. This is important as well. It's no good having principles if you haven't thought through how they actually work. This is not to say that the situations must be allowed to drive our theology. Perish the thought! But we must know how the principles work.
Too much pastoralia does part one, but not part two. Other pastoralia is driven by part two, rather than part one. Both need correcting. That's our plan. It's no use, for example, waiting until situations come along to sort out what we think. We can't tell people in difficult and pastoral situations to wait a few months whilst we sort out what we believe.
So, here's my plea. Do you know what you believe the Bible to clearly teach about marriage, divorce and remarriage and do you know how to apply these truths to situations. If not, perhaps next time you need to come along and join us?
The pastor: a man for all the people
For your coffee table…
What's on your coffee table? If you have one, of course. Some worthy travel books and a few battered copies of What Car? Or, to put it another way, when neighbours or friends come round your place, what books do they see? What catches their attention?
I got a sneaky peak this week at a coffee table book that DayOne are producing in the early summer. It's called Evidence for the Bible and is by Clive Anderson and Brian Edwards. It's beautifully presented, and well written. 250 pages of solid coffee table material. I think we are long overdue for this kind of book. Let me tell you why.
- First, there is an increasing amount of archaeology that supports Biblical accounts. As Bible believing Christians, we're not surprised at this, of course. But our friends may be. Presenting the evidence in an attractive, accessible, professional way is a task that is long overdue. Someone who is not a Christian is unlikely to buy this book, but they may happily look at yours. This book can have, in other words, an evangelistic impact.
- Second, as Christians, it is good to reassure ourselves that the evidence for the Bible does exist. It is by faith that we believe the Bible (Hebrews 11.3) not by archaeological digs. However, God in his goodness, strengthens our faith when we see confirmed in the world what we already believe. I've got quite a few books on this sort of subject, but I don't look at them that often – they sit on the shelves with a few thousand others. Interestingly, I have a reproduction of the Cyrus Cylinder on my shelf and that does work in this kind of way. I still marvel at it as I think about Ezra 1. However, I am sure that, if I had a coffee table book, I would look at it all the time and be amazed! This book can have, in other words, a faith-strengthening impact.
Presented as it is, and by its nature, it won't be a snip or steal. But that's fine. It will be priced around the same as other similar books and I think it is a worthy investment. Watch this space for more info. And in the meantime, IKEA will sell you a coffee table for a fiver. Get ready.
Grieving over the loss of a child?
Some of the most intense pain and grief known to man is that of parents who have lost a child. I'm glad to see, therefore, that Nancy Guthrie is over in the UK teaching on Job in Manchester on 3 May (more info here). However, whilst here she is co-hosting a Manchester evening event with her husband for those who have lost a child. Gill Jump would be very interested to hear from you if you would like to get along.
What is the meaning of sex?
I've just finished reading this new book by Denny Burk, published by Crossway and available in the UK for around £11.50 or as a £7 ebook. It's a comprehensive review of the purpose of sex (clue: it's to glorify God) and precisely what that means. It's well written and not plagued by too many anecdotes or imaginary couples (those kinds of things really get me going…..!!!). There are a lot of footnotes for this type of (non academic) book, and it's interesting that many of the footnotes are taken from books I have read and liked (Piper, Ash, Hollinger etc). Along the way, as well as affirming a robust and orthodox view of sex within marriage and its significance, Burk interacts with current issues: homosexuality, transgender and gender spectrum, admissability (or otherwise) of certain sexual acts, family planning and singleness.
This is an excellent book. It is well ordered, logical and begins with the things such a book ought to begin with. There's a flow to is which is natural and helpful. The footnotes perhaps indicate that much of its teaching is gathering together what is written well elsewhere, but even at that level, it's a helpful addition. Moreover, the number of footnotes also indicate that Burk is interacting closely and carefully with views with which he disagrees, partiuclarly revisionist hermeneutics. I found this really helpful.
I particularly valued his interaction with the Driscoll's chapter "Can I…..?" (which is – at best – sloppy in its exegesis and so leads to some alarming conclusions). Burk puts us straight. I also found his latter chapters on homosexuality and (especially) transgender, very helpful and thoughtful, although I wanted him to say more, but presumably the format and purpose of the book did not allow. Inevitably, there were some areas which I thought were overstated – he presents, for example, two views on whether the contraceptive pill is also an abortofacient in some detail. I'm not sure I agree with his conclusion. But these are very minor niggles.
However, here's the thing. I still prefer – as an overarching book – my colleague Christopher Ash's book on marriage: the big one. That may be familiarity. Burk certainly quotes it a lot, always (I believe) positively. But it's not available in the US, and because it is now 10 years old, it doesn't interact with some of the recent material in the same way Burk's does. That probably means Burk's will be out of date in a short season too. So be it. That's the way of things now. But for the moment, this is well worth a bit of your time and money and provides a useful, biblical, positive and thorough view of sex as the Bible presents it. Thanks Denny!
There's a good little afterword in this month's Modern Reformation magazine. Carl Trueman is writing about the kind of reductionism which makes pastoral responses to disaster and tragedy nothing more than "Well, it is God's will." He writes:
Divine sovereignty does not negate the emotion of the moment, nor does it relativise the agony of death or lead Christ to spout aloof and trite platitudes at a moment of devastation for Lazarus' family.
The next time there is a human catastrophe or natural disaster, beware those who think they can answer the problem in 140 characters or less. They cannot. Those who simply assert that it is all part of God's will will give such a small part of the truth as to be misleading. And that is what hyper-Calvinism is but one small example of: a small part of the glorious truth of God's sovereignty presented in such a way as to hide or obscure the true riches of the biblical teaching on God.
Perhaps this temptation is not your own – but when we become one issue parties, there is surely a danger of falling into this trap?
Preacher as DJ
I used to be a radio DJ. I know, I know – hard to believe, but true nonetheless. I guess, as a failed musician, the next best thing was playing other people's records. And it's not a bad picture for what a preacher is. I thought about this as I took some Sunday School teachers training on Saturday. It's always helpful to have pictures of what we're doing when we preach and teach God's word to others. I personally quite like the picture of preacher as chef. It's a helpful illustration and one I've used here before. But here's my latest – the preacher as DJ.
Some Bible preachers and teachers are like amateurs in the karaoke bar. Occasionally you get a really good singer and you can enjoy the moment. But even when you get a good singer, it's still the singer's voice you hear. The backing track is almost inconsequential. It's just helping the singer hit the note and shine through. It strikes me that many preachers – at least subconsciously – think this way. Or, at best, it's the way their preaching comes across. The living and enduring word of God is their backing track, and their preaching or teaching is the means by which they shine through.
But your people have not come to church to hear you. They've come to church to hear God. And – to be more precise – they've not come to church to hear you take liberties with the text and make it say things it is not meant to say. That's karaoke bar show off coloratura. No, you're the DJ. Your job is to spin the discs and play the music someone else has already recorded. Your task as preacher is to let God be the lead singer, backing band and vocals. Cue it up, by all means, get the volume right, mix it nicely.
But just play the record. It's what your people need.
Summer Wives. Get your church investing.
Just come back from a hugely encouraging spring wives' conference with 107 married women. Great ministry from John Samuel (Duke Street Church, Richmond) and Clare Heath-Whyte (from Frogmore). We also had Wallace and Lindsay Benn leading hugely important sessions on ministry and marriage. Audio and video will be online later in the week. It reminded me what a vital and urgent ministry this is. PT is very happy to invest and sponsor wives' conferences: it is good for those who come in themselves, as disciples of Christ. It is good for husbands/preachers to release them to come. It is good for churches to pay for them to come (does yours?). Yes, this is a great church investment.
Our spring wives conference is for those with over 7-8 years of ministry experience (though we do not draw the lines too sharply). Our summer wives' conference is for those in earlier years of ministry. It is cross denominational: perhaps this needs to be said (though it seems a shame). Our planning team includes free church wives (Mrs R and Ursula Stevens) and our helpers come from both Anglican and Free Church contexts. All are welcome. And even though those who come serve in a vast variety of contexts, many of the things we need to grapple with are the same. We plan the conference to encourage and equip those who find themselves in a unique position – being married to the minister! That carries with it great pressures – and also great joys. It is important to address the former and remind each other about the latter.
So, if you're a ministry wife, with your husband just starting out, it would be lovely to see you. If you're a ministry husband, just starting out – invest in your marriage and ministry by releasing your wife to come and join us. And if you're a church with a young married minister, this is something you should be getting behind for the sake of his wife, your sister in Christ, for your church, and – ultimately, therefore – for the sake of Christ.
Dates are Tuesday 23 June through Friday 27 June at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire. This year I'm speaking on Ezra and Liz Cox, family's and children's worker from St Giles church in Derby will be helping out with the teaching. Book here.
If you must…
And if you must… here is part 2 of the Chalke-Wilson debate from Premier TV. This is actually a helpful episode, because Andrew draws out from Steve what he really thinks about historicity, where events truly happen, but the Bible still is not literally true – for example, the man picking up kindling in Numbers 15 really is put to death, but Moses "mishears" God's instruction. This is not just an OT issue – Steve also falls at the Ananais and Sapphira test. This is liberalism and nothing more.
A great book. A truly rubbish cover.
Book designs have come on leaps and bounds. But even so, there's no accounting for the 2004 cover of Eric Lane's Special Children. It is truly, awfully so bad that I cannot show it to you before the nine o'clock watershed. Which is something of a shame, because this is a great book. It's a theology of children for credo-baptists. It does interact with paedo baptist views, but it's not a paedo baptist book. Rather it answers carefully and thoughtfully some of the questions that credo baptists sometimes struggle with: can I teach my child to pray, for example? What about children who die in infancy? I must acknowledge an interest – Eric was my mentor, my Gamaliel as I trained for ministry. I love everything he writes. But I've found this especially useful – so much so I keep copies on the shelf to give to people. It's not a scholarly defence of one particular view, but it has very helpful wisdom for those of us who are consciously credobaptist.